Theme of the Short Story "An Act of Vengeance"

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Isabel Allende's story "An Act of Vengeance" paints an uncensored picture of its theme: the cost of war. This cost includes the short-term and long-term impact war has on soldiers and civilians, the guilt to which it can lead for crimes committed, and the desire for vengeance it can produce in its victims. Allende reveals this theme through character development, conflict and symbolism.

1 Short-Term Cost of War

The cost of war for soldiers and civilians is felt directly during the war. For those who fight, the cost of being embedded in battle can harden soldiers against compassion, nostalgia and pity. In the story, the fighter Tadeo Céspedes serves as a symbol for the cost of war for soldiers: "Ever since he had begun to shave he had had a weapon in his hands, and he had lived for a long time amidst the sound of exploding gunpowder. He had forgotten his mother’s kisses and even the songs of mass." In the short term, Tadeo's lack of a "home" apart from the war itself leads him to adopt an absence of a sense accountability, transforming him into a tool for violence.

2 Long-Term Cost of War

Allende's development of Céspedes is dramatic. He transforms from a remorseless soldier to a mayor who devotes himself "to administering justice." The reader witnesses the development of a conscience in Don Tadeo, such that he is haunted by his actions in the war. Despite possessing all the factors that should allow him to lead a happy and peaceful life, he cannot escape the guilt he feels for his past. Guilt is one of the aspects of the story's theme -- many soldiers in battle commit acts they later regret or are haunted by throughout their lives. The inner conflict of this character -- his present versus his past -- drives the plot forward.

3 Cycles of Violence

Another aspect of the theme is a direct product of the violence of war: revenge. For many victims of war, in particular those who have lost loved ones to violence, vengeance becomes a recourse for the pain they feel. Unfortunately, this desire for revenge merely continues the cycle of violence. The character Dulce Rosa symbolizes this long-term aspect of war. For 30 years, Dulce's desire to avenge the death of her father and her neighbors, and to punish the man who raped her, keeps her awake at night. Her desire to punish the one who punished her represents the credo of many victims of war in the real world, and the cost is often the perpetuation of violence.

4 Resilience

Another aspect of the cost of war is a quality with which many victims react in its aftermath: resilience. When Dulce Rosa rebuilds her house, this act symbolizes strength and resilience -- the ability to recover from setbacks or trauma. The literal reconstruction of her home from the rubble to which it had been reduced represents the steps some victims take toward healing their emotional and psychological wounds. In the story, Rosa's resilience is made stronger by the support of the community who "formed crews to rebuild the house and gave her six ferocious dogs to protect her." Often after a tragedy, neighbors and community members unite to support one another in rebuilding efforts; in this way, Rosa's tragedy and resilience evoked the goodness and support of her community.

Soheila Battaglia is a published and award-winning author and filmmaker. She holds an MA in literary cultures from New York University and a BA in ethnic studies from UC Berkeley. She is a college professor of literature and composition.